Adding a New Dimension to my Tree Appreciation

I’ve observed since my undergraduate forestry education that trees grow taller on richer sites, a fact that doesn’t require a bachelors degree to confirm. The central Appalachian forests where I worked undergraduate summers clearly evidenced the correlation. Forests on lower concave slopes facing the northeast quadrant (i.e. cove sites) performed best, with white and red oaks, yellow poplar, cucumber trees, black cherry, white ash, basswood, and sugar maple standing fat and reaching tall. Upper convex positions supported chestnut oak, red maple, Virginia pine, beech, and mixed oaks standing far shorter and with fewer and smaller stems per acre. Upper west and south facing slopes performed poorest of all. Fifteen years later, my doctoral research quantified the relationship between such site factors and forest productivity within the Allegheny Hardwood forests of NW PA and SW NY. The same relationships hold in our southern Appalachians. Cove sites win the mountain tree-height medals. Here in north Alabama, our river bottomlands likewise reign supreme.

Since retirement, I’ve wandered our north Alabama wildlands observing much about soil-site and tree relationships, without aid of an instrument for measuring tree height. Alas, I’ve purchased a clinometer (measures vertical percent and degrees) and a 100-foot tape (below left). I celebrate being able to measure standing tree height. It’s so simple — measure 100 feet from the tree base and read percent down to the tree base (I’ve been using it to-date in relatively flat bottomland forests) and up to the center-top. For example, I measured a sweetgum recently: five percent down to base and 108 to the top. Add the two to reveal the tree’s 113-foot height. I plan to often include tree heights in future blog Posts as I continue to explore north Alabama wildness. Standing 100 feet from the base, Jerry Weisenfeld takes a reading to the tree top.

 

Monte Sano

 

 

 

 

I offer with this Post some of my early measurements from the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge bottomland hardwood forests (February 24, 2021) and on the Flint River floodplain forests at the Goldsmith-Schiffman Wildlife Sanctuary (February 25, 2021).

Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge

 

This 21.8-inch diameter shagbark hickory stands at 115 feet. Until procuring the clinometer, I could only estimate with eyes long-removed from my active forestry research days. My once reliable estimating skill had faded with the years. Now I can begin to recalibrate!

HGH RoadHGH Road

 

A 20.3-inch diameter chinkapin oak stands at 110 feet. For rough comparison, that’s equivalent to an 11-story building!

HGH RoadHGH Road

 

Yellow poplars are often the tallest trees I encounter. This 32.9-inch diameter specimen stands at 118 feet. As I begin to incorporate height measurements into these Posts, I will reflect more deeply on the relationship between site quality and height, and the ongoing battle among trees for light, water, and nutrients.

HGH RoadHGH Road

 

Across the Refuge’s bottomland forests, loblolly pine intermixes as microsite shifts towards better drained soils. The loblolly (dead center in photo below), 100 feet from where I stood, is 24.7 inches in diameter and reaches 114 feet above the forest floor. These 100-foot-plus heights are impressive enough when viewed from below. However, I imagine standing on the roof of an 11-story building, gazing with head spinning (I am not comfortable with heights) over the edge to the ground way-too-far below!

HGH Road

 

Rich riparian sites along the Tennessee River, combined with our annual rainfall at 55 inches, produce forests worthy of admiration and inspiration!

Goldsmith-Schiffman Wildlife Sanctuary

 

Although not along the Tennessee River, the Sanctuary is similarly riparian-situated along the Flint River. This 22.0-inch diameter sweetgum reaches 113 feet into the canopy. The two photographs immediately below show the 100-foot tape attached to the base (left) and with the view along the tape back to the base (right). I’ve discovered that my trusty iPhone camera does not depict horizontal distances as I wish. The tree 100-feet away appears as tiny and insignificant.

 

Yet, under it, peering into the crown, the tree stands impressively.

 

I’m fascinated with tree height and the intense competition for available upper-canopy sunlight.

Gazing into the Canopy

 

I am growing fonder and fonder of the vertical forest perspective, gazing directly into the business end of our sylvan citizens. In fact, I vow to spend more time lying on my back looking into the canopy. I’ll make sure the area where I recline is free of snakes, poison ivy, and other distractions!

HGH Road

 

Over the course of my many years in forest practice, I seldom assumed such position. Now, retired, I will do as I please. No worry about appearing to loaf! In fact, I won’t accept the term loafing. Instead, we’ll refer to it as reclined deep contemplation!

HGH Road

 

Contemplation that triggers youthful memories. I recall summer days as a youngster, lying on my back peering skyward, and feeling as though I might fall up into the sky. I feel an echo of those childhood sensations as I now gaze into the canopy, drawing out greater appreciation for the ten-story height, somewhat mimicking a reverse fear of heights, a mirror-version of being on the rooftop looking down. One may think me odd, yet I accept the sensation with glee. Anything I can do mentally to deepen my appreciation for scale assists my embrace of Nature’s beauty, magic, wonder, and awe!

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer three observations:

  • Understanding the forest requires gazing into the canopy
  • Good grounding and rich nourishment make all the difference… in tree height, and in people’s character 
  • A scientist, I multiply my admiration and inspiration with measurement

Inhale and absorb Nature’s elixir. May Nature Inspire, Inform, Humble, and Reward you!

 

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2021 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

Another Note: If you came to this post via a Facebook posting or by an another route, please sign up now (no cost… no obligation) to receive my Blog Post email alerts: http://eepurl.com/cKLJdL

And a Third: I am available for Nature-Inspired Speaking, Writing, and Consulting — contact me at steve.jones.0524@gmail.com

 

Reminder of my Personal and Professional Purpose, Passion, and Cause

If only more of us viewed our precious environment through the filters I employ. If only my mission and vision could be multiplied untold orders of magnitude:

Mission: Employ writing and speaking to educate, inspire, and enable readers and listeners to understand, appreciate, and enjoy Nature… and accept and practice Earth Stewardship.

Vision:

  • People of all ages will pay greater attention to and engage more regularly with Nature… and will accept and practice informed and responsible Earth Stewardship.
  • They will see their relationship to our natural world with new eyes… and will understand more clearly their Earth home.

Tagline/Motto: Steve (Great Blue Heron) encourages and seeks a better tomorrow through Nature-Inspired Living!

 

Steve’s Three Books

I wrote my books Nature Based Leadership (2016), Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading (2017), and Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits: Stories of Passion for Place and Everyday Nature (2019; co-authored with Dr. Jennifer Wilhoit) to encourage all citizens to recognize and appreciate that every lesson for living, learning, serving, and leading is either written indelibly in or is powerfully inspired by Nature.

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

  • I love hiking and exploring in Nature
  • I see images I want to (and do) capture with my trusty iPhone camera
  • I enjoy explaining those images — an educator at heart
  • I don’t play golf!
  • I actually do love writing — it’s the hobby I never needed when my career consumed me
  • Judy suggested my writing is in large measure my legacy to our two kids, our five grand kids, and all the unborn generations beyond
  • And finally, perhaps my books and Blogs could reach beyond family and touch a few other lives… sow some seeds for the future

HGH Road

All Three Books

All three of my books (Nature Based LeadershipNature-Inspired Learning and LeadingWeaned Seals and Snowy Summits) present compilations of personal experiences expressing my (and co-author Dr. Wilhoit for Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) deep passion for Nature. All three books offer observations and reflections on my relationship to the natural world… and the broader implications for society. Order any and all from your local indie bookstore, or find them on IndieBound or other online sources such as Amazon and LifeRich.

 

Reflections on Natural Disasters

 

Reflections on Natural Disasters

 

Today’s instant global news connects us with calamities from Asian tsunamis to California and Australian wildfires to calving Antarctic mega-glaciers to seething volcanoes to European floods to a variety of weather extremes (hurricanes, tornadoes, avalanches, ice storms, severe thunderstorms, tidal surges, and drought). We anthropocentric humans dub such events as natural disasters. Yes, these perturbations are natural. But, in whose eyes are they disasters? Excepting their effect on humans and our lives, structures, and economies, they are simply normal fluxes of atmospheric physics, weather patterns, and our Earth’s dynamic crustal plates. Landslides and earthquakes result from a constant battle for equilibrium. Storms of all sorts occur as the global atmosphere seeks balance. Glaciers work tirelessly to scrape mountains to the sea. Water and gravity likewise sweep soil, rocks, and associated debris seaward.

Bradford Creek

 

Fires have burned California forests, growing happily in a dry-summer/wet-winter Mediterranean climate on steep hillsides, since long before the first humans entered what became the Golden State. Winter rains have generated mudslides on the fire-cleared hillsides for as long as fires have periodically scorched the forests. The cycle of forest/fire/mudslide/forest is natural, and will continue without regard for the foolhardy humans who place homes with little regard to Nature’s ways. Flood plains identify themselves clearly to the hydrologists among us, yet we build homes and cities in harm’s way. We populate beachfronts subject to tropical storms with homes and other infrastructure. We time and again “protect” New Orleans by rebuilding, reinforcing, and elevating levees, yet as the city sinks year after year from the weight of thousands of feet of sediment, the city will one day pay the ultimate price.

November 2020Oak Mountain

 

From the perspective of managers and recreationists at Joe Wheeler State Park (Rogersville, AL), the December 2019 tornado that destroyed the campground amounted to a natural disaster. Nature “handles” such disasters in stride. In fact, such storms serve to renew the forest, or whatever ecosystem is affected. It is we humans who struggle with the impacts.

Joe Wheeler SP

 

The week of February 15, we witnessed a deep-diving polar outbreak reaching to the Texas Gulf coast, bringing record low temperatures, relentless snowfall, and historic ice storms. The death toll in Texas alone reached 86. Property damage across the southern US matched major hurricane levels. The news media spoke of this as an unprecedented natural disaster. Many of the now-broken records go back 100-plus years to 1890. Unprecedented? Okay, in 1890 the US population was one-sixth of today’s. Because home electricity did not appear commonly until 1930, residents in 1890 did not suffer from power outages. Frozen pipes? Likewise not a problem. A disaster? Certainly a disaster for those who lost power, experienced frozen pipes, were unable to secure clean water, suffered carbon monoxide poisoning, and went without food. But, a natural disaster? I think that Nature and her wildness will feel little consequence from such a weather phenomenon, which, while unusual, occurs every few decades or once a century.

Here in northern Alabama, the evening of February 17 brought us six inches of snow. I am sure it triggered many fender-benders and perhaps a few resultant injuries. Schools closed for several days. Yet, I do not consider this generally as more than a minor natural perturbation here on the eastern edge of the more calamitous cold air invasion. In fact, I welcomed the snow as a brief period of winter during a time when spring was locked and loaded, ready to emerge.

 

All of these natural disturbances are part of the grand cycle of life and the ongoing fluxes associated with forces seeking balance. Natural disasters? I beg to differ. Natural, yes. Disaster? Only in human terms. However, I understand how we derived the term. I don’t suggest that we seek an alternate moniker. I simply want to remind readers that our own human impacts on the future may be more of a disaster than anything that Nature throws our way. Consider among others: foul air; abusive agricultural practices; soil erosion; wetland elimination; species extinction; water pollution; paving paradise (and putting up a parking lot; courtesy of Big Yellow Taxi, Joni Mitchell).

So-called natural disasters do not not dim my own maturing love affair with Nature. Instead, the vagaries, mysteries, and power of Nature further inspire me, driving me to seek deeper understanding of this incredible planet and our place within its global ecosystem.

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer three observations from my musings on natural disasters:

  • Everything in Nature occurs in accord with her own immutable laws
  • Nature cares not about human impacts
  • We humans can only deal with Nature… not control her

Inhale and absorb Nature’s elixir. May Nature Inspire, Inform, and Reward you!

 

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2021 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

Another Note: If you came to this post via a Facebook posting or by an another route, please sign up now (no cost… no obligation) to receive my Blog Post email alerts: http://eepurl.com/cKLJdL

And a Third: I am available for Nature-Inspired Speaking, Writing, and Consulting — contact me at steve.jones.0524@gmail.com

 

Reminder of my Personal and Professional Purpose, Passion, and Cause

If only more of us viewed our precious environment through the filters I employ. If only my mission and vision could be multiplied untold orders of magnitude:

Mission: Employ writing and speaking to educate, inspire, and enable readers and listeners to understand, appreciate, and enjoy Nature… and accept and practice Earth Stewardship.

Vision:

  • People of all ages will pay greater attention to and engage more regularly with Nature… and will accept and practice informed and responsible Earth Stewardship.
  • They will see their relationship to our natural world with new eyes… and will understand more clearly their Earth home.

Tagline/Motto: Steve (Great Blue Heron) encourages and seeks a better tomorrow through Nature-Inspired Living!

 

Steve’s Three Books

I wrote my books Nature Based Leadership (2016), Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading (2017), and Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits: Stories of Passion for Place and Everyday Nature (2019; co-authored with Dr. Jennifer Wilhoit) to encourage all citizens to recognize and appreciate that every lesson for living, learning, serving, and leading is either written indelibly in or is powerfully inspired by Nature.

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

  • I love hiking and exploring in Nature
  • I see images I want to (and do) capture with my trusty iPhone camera
  • I enjoy explaining those images — an educator at heart
  • I don’t play golf!
  • I actually do love writing — it’s the hobby I never needed when my career consumed me
  • Judy suggested my writing is in large measure my legacy to our two kids, our five grand kids, and all the unborn generations beyond
  • And finally, perhaps my books and Blogs could reach beyond family and touch a few other lives… sow some seeds for the future

Steve's BooksOak Mountain

 

All three of my books (Nature Based LeadershipNature-Inspired Learning and LeadingWeaned Seals and Snowy Summits) present compilations of personal experiences expressing my (and co-author Dr. Wilhoit for Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) deep passion for Nature. All three books offer observations and reflections on my relationship to the natural world… and the broader implications for society. Order any and all from your local indie bookstore, or find them on IndieBound or other online sources such as Amazon and LifeRich.

 

On Wilderness and Wildness

Prompted by my Nature-ramblings and wanderings, I muse with this Post on the distinctions and commonalities among the terms wildness, wilderness, and Wilderness, about which Nature itself cares little.

Wildness, wilderness, and Wilderness

Merrian-Webster online defines wilderness as: a tract or region uncultivated and uninhabited by human beings; an area essentially undisturbed by human activity together with its naturally developed life community. M-W online shows little, if any, distinction from wilderness in defining wildness: a sparsely inhabited or uncultivated region or tract: wilderness. The two subtle differences:

  1. Wilderness — uninhabited by humans; wildness — sparsely inhabited
  2. Wilderness — uncultivated and undisturbed by human activity; wildness — uncultivated

The Wilderness Act of 1964 defined statutory Federal Wilderness:

A Wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain. An area of wilderness is further defined to mean in this chapter an area of undeveloped Federal land retaining its primeval character and influence, without permanent improvements or human habitation, which is protected and managed so as to preserve its natural conditions and which (1) generally appears to have been affected primarily by the forces of nature, with the imprint of man’s work substantially unnoticeable; (2) has outstanding opportunities for solitude or a primitive and unconfined type of recreation; (3) has at least five thousand acres of land or is of sufficient size as to make practicable its preservation and use in an unimpaired condition; and (4) may also contain ecological, geological, or other features of scientific, educational, scenic, or historical value.

So, I will comment and reflect on Alabama Wilderness, wilderness (lower case ‘w’), and wildness. We have three federally-designated Alabama Wilderness areas totaling 41,000 acres: Sipsey; Cheaha; Dugger Mountain. I’ve visited the Sipsey Wilderness and gazed out over the Cheaha Wilderness from the summit of Alabama’s highest peak. Here’s a photo from within the Sipsey. Quite frankly, the image is indistinguishable from countless other ledges I’ve seen across the northern half of our state, including wilderness and wildness.

 

Sipsey Wilderness

 

Here’s a spring waterfall along a well-used trail in DeSoto State Park. Many of our Alabama State Parks offer abundant wildness, at a level sufficient to satisfy my own thirst for Nature.

 

And these cathedral spires (white oak left; yellow poplar right) grace deep forest in Joe Wheeler and Monte Sano State Parks, respectively. Had these individuals been in Wilderness or wilderness, my Nature-addiction would be no less slaked.

Joe WheelerMonte Sano

 

And, this magnificent cherrybark oak stands in a bottomland hardwood forest on the eastern end of Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge. This land, I am nearly certain, once saw the plow and agricultural production, a far cry from untrammeled by man! Yet, everything about this spot of peace, beauty, and tranquility lifted me. In fact, that it did not meet wildness criteria amplified my appreciation for Nature’s resiliency.

HGH Road

 

Across Alabama’s wildness I find abundant Places of Peace (PoPs)!

Wildness Rebounds from Even Harsh Trammeling

I shift from Alabama to my Land Legacy project site in east-central Ohio. This fully stocked mixed hardwood forest below graces the hill behind the family’s lakeside cottage, surrounded by wildness and beauty. However, the lake is an artifact of strip-mining for coal; the rolling pasture land adjoining the lake is reclaimed from highwall and overburden returned to roughly the original contours. The forest in both images below cover an unconsolidated debris heap abandoned six decades ago. Much of this forest regenerated naturally, including the two red oak stems below right.

Land Legacy

September 2020

 

 

 

 

 

 

I had spent considerable time exploring this stand before I discovered that the sweetgum trees had been planted. Once I noticed the straight planted row of sweetgum below, I paid more attention, seeing clearly then the parallel planted sweetgum rows ascending the debris heap above left. See my November 25, 2020 Post for details: https://stevejonesgbh.com/2020/11/25/late-september-wanderings-and-ramblings-on-my-ohio-land-legacy-project-site/

September 2020

 

My appetite for wildness doesn’t require Jenny Lake and the Tetons (below)…thank God, it’s a long haul to western Wyoming! A reclaimed strip mine provides a full dose of Nature’s elixir, without the expense of time and travel. Okay, I admit that nothing beats hiking the six-mile Jenny Lake trail! It’s just that I refuse to submit to pining for what is not within my immediate reach. When people ask what place where we’ve lived (13 interstate moves) did we like best, our answer is simple and honest: “Wherever we happened to be be living.” My maternal grandmother counseled all of us to “Bloom where you are planted!” For me that translates to, “Find and Scratch your Nature Itch wherever you seek it.”

Tetons

 

Some 85 years ago, during construction of Wheeler Dam along the Tennessee River near Rogersville, Alabama, crews created a then-modern recreation area to provide leisure activities for the 10,000 workers and families living nearby. Abandoned at least 60 years ago, the site has naturalized, surrounded within wildness. My August 2020 Post tells the tale: https://stevejonesgbh.com/2020/08/12/long-abandoned-recreation-area-at-joe-wheeler-state-park/

A concrete picnic table, with wooden benches long since rotted, stands below left. English ivy, planted then as landscape ground cover, fully occupies the forest floor.

Joe WheelerJoe Wheeler

 

Wildness occurs at whatever scale we choose, including the rich diversity of fungi and non-flowering plants occupying dead logs.

DeSoto SP

HGH Road

 

The Great Chain of Being

I subscribe to the Reverend Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation, an email-delivered Post. Several weeks ago in his series on Nature, Cosmos, and Connection, he offered reflections relevant to my own Post on Wilderness and Wildness:

I would like to reclaim an ancient, evolving, and very Franciscan metaphor: the Great Chain of Being. This image helps us rightly name the nature of the universe, God, and the self, and to direct our future thinking.

Scholastic theologians tried to communicate a linked and coherent world through this image. The essential and unbreakable links in the chain include the Divine Creator, the angelic heaven, the human, the animal, the world of vegetation, all water, and planet Earth itself with its minerals. In themselves, and in their union together, they proclaim the glory of God and the inherent dignity of all things. This became the basis for calling anything and everything sacred.

What some now call creation spirituality, deep ecology, or holistic gospel actually found a much earlier voice in the spirituality of the ancient Celts, the Rhineland mystics, and, most especially, Saints Francis of Assisi (1182–1226) and Bonaventure (1217–1274). 

The Great Chain of Being of the early Middle Ages was a positive intellectual vision…defined the clarity and beauty of form. It was a cosmic egg of meaning, a vision of Creator and a multitude of creatures that excluded nothing.

Categorizing forests by Wilderness, wilderness, or wildness means nothing to Nature itself. All forests, all creatures, all living organisms, and we humans are all part of the Great Chain of Being. And, as Muir so beautifully stated, we are all part of that “One Great Dewdrop!”

John Muir: When we contemplate the whole globe as one great dewdrop, striped and dotted with continents and islands, flying through space with other stars all singing and shining together as one, the whole universe appears as an infinite storm of beauty.

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer three observations from my musings on wildness, wilderness, and Wilderness:

  • The terms mean nothing to Nature itself
  • Nature is a Cosmic Egg of Life
  • We humans are all part of the Great Chain of Being

Inhale and absorb Nature’s elixir. May Nature Inspire, Inform, and Reward you!

 

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2021 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

Another Note: If you came to this post via a Facebook posting or by an another route, please sign up now (no cost… no obligation) to receive my Blog Post email alerts: http://eepurl.com/cKLJdL

And a Third: I am available for Nature-Inspired Speaking, Writing, and Consulting — contact me at steve.jones.0524@gmail.com

 

Reminder of my Personal and Professional Purpose, Passion, and Cause

If only more of us viewed our precious environment through the filters I employ. If only my mission and vision could be multiplied untold orders of magnitude:

Mission: Employ writing and speaking to educate, inspire, and enable readers and listeners to understand, appreciate, and enjoy Nature… and accept and practice Earth Stewardship.

Vision:

  • People of all ages will pay greater attention to and engage more regularly with Nature… and will accept and practice informed and responsible Earth Stewardship.
  • They will see their relationship to our natural world with new eyes… and will understand more clearly their Earth home.

Tagline/Motto: Steve (Great Blue Heron) encourages and seeks a better tomorrow through Nature-Inspired Living!

 

Steve’s Three Books

I wrote my books Nature Based Leadership (2016), Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading (2017), and Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits: Stories of Passion for Place and Everyday Nature (2019; co-authored with Dr. Jennifer Wilhoit) to encourage all citizens to recognize and appreciate that every lesson for living, learning, serving, and leading is either written indelibly in or is powerfully inspired by Nature.

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

  • I love hiking and exploring in Nature
  • I see images I want to (and do) capture with my trusty iPhone camera
  • I enjoy explaining those images — an educator at heart
  • I don’t play golf!
  • I actually do love writing — it’s the hobby I never needed when my career consumed me
  • Judy suggested my writing is in large measure my legacy to our two kids, our five grand kids, and all the unborn generations beyond
  • And finally, perhaps my books and Blogs could reach beyond family and touch a few other lives… sow some seeds for the future

Steve's BooksHGH Road

 

All three of my books (Nature Based LeadershipNature-Inspired Learning and LeadingWeaned Seals and Snowy Summits) present compilations of personal experiences expressing my (and co-author Dr. Wilhoit for Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) deep passion for Nature. All three books offer observations and reflections on my relationship to the natural world… and the broader implications for society. Order any and all from your local indie bookstore, or find them on IndieBound or other online sources such as Amazon and LifeRich.

 

Reflections on My Maturing Love Affair with Nature

Nature-Infatuation

The Weather Channel (TWC) prompted today’s Blog Post, having recently introduced a new tag line, imploring viewers to Get Into… The Out There! The Channel launched Sunday, May 2, 1982. I was then soon-to-celebrate my 31st birthday. I recall as a kid watching Channel 7, WMAL out of Washington D.C. The first on air “weatherman” I remember with clarity from my childhood is Louis Allen. I had long been addicted to weather, watching him on the six o’clock news talking about “the ducks are on the pond,” when conditions promised (threatened) a snowstorm. I vividly remember one winter evening when cameras rolled outside the studio as Mr. Allen shovelled “six inches of partly cloudy,” poking fun at his errant prior day forecast that did not include snow. Allen’s daily five-minute forecast highlighted many school-day evenings for me. What’s that you say? How boring could a boy’s life be! That takes me to another ad currently running on TWC. A calm male voice says, “Some people say talking about the weather is boring; I say not talking about the weather is boring.” I could not agree more.

Big Blue Lake

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Purely and simply, I am addicted to weather… and to all of Nature. John Muir long ago captured my sentiment toward weather and Nature:

When we contemplate the whole globe as one great dewdrop, striped and dotted with continents and islands, flying through space with other stars all singing and shining together as one, the whole universe appears as an infinite storm of beauty.

I love the weather analogy applied to all of Nature… here on Earth and beyond. Muir’s wisdom captivated me from the git-go. How could anyone of my Nature-persuasion not be enveloped by this profound statement:

This grand show is eternal. It is always sunrise somewhere; the dew is never all dried at once; a shower is forever falling; vapor is ever rising. Eternal sunrise, eternal sunset, eternal dawn and gloaming, on sea and continents and islands, each in its turn, as the round earth rolls.

UAF

 

My love for Nature persisted across my five-decade career… and deepened when retirement freed me to focus intently on the object of my lifelong Nature-passion. Wildness lies so easily within reach here in northern Alabama, whether in my own backyard or while exploring the many trails, parks, preserves, refuges, or other protected wildness within 30-60 minutes. No matter where I travel — locally, regionally, across the US, or internationally — I seek ventures into nearby wildness. Pre-retirement, travel usually entailed demanding work-related meetings of one sort or another, tantalizing and torturing me with the wildness in plain sight with no time to explore. I no longer have time to not immerse in nearby wildness wherever I roam. Life is too short for additional regrets.

Local Greenways

 

Late January 2021 through early February 2021 my Nature-inspiration multiplied in a manner I had not anticipated. This past fall (2020) my ophthalmologist informed me that I had developed cataracts. I write this paragraph the day following surgery on the second eye. This afternoon, Judy and I walked through our neighborhood. I observed tree branch geometry and detail I did not know existed. Exquisite patterns and intricate designs… not just a tree in winter silhouette, but a work of art. I hope the thrill of this enhanced vision-appreciation never diminishes. I agree wholeheartedly with Muir’s declaration of amazement. This grand Nature-show is eternal; the whole universe does indeed appear as an infinite storm of beauty!

HGH Road

 

No need to imagine an oak silhouetted against an early March nautical dawn twilight. Just get out there at 5:40am and snap a photo!

 

On Being Not Out of the Woods Yet

My deepening love affair spurs personal umbrage at a common saying. We often hear friends and newscasters comment regarding ailing relatives or celebrities, “He/she is not out of the woods yet,” as though being in the woods is something bad or ominous. I recall reading accounts of early European impressions of the New England forests: dark and foreboding; foul and repugnant; populated by terrifying beasts. Okay, from that perspective, being out of the woods might be a good thing. Instead, I’ll lean toward Muir’s take on the forests through which he roamed:

Going to the woods is going home.

And into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul.

Between every two pines is a doorway to a new world.

The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.

Henry David Thoreau expressed a similar attitude toward forest wildness:

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.

And, today’s Weather Channel tag line concurs:

Get Into… The Out There!

Lake LurleenJoe Wheeler

 

I hope never to be out of the woods. Nature’s woodland elixir salves my body, mind, heart, soul, and spirit.

Monte Sano

 

Every time I venture into the forest I find more than I sought!

The Soul of Nature — My sacred Connection

 

My love affair with Nature runs deeper than the aesthetic and scientific. I have strong sacred and spiritual connections to wildness, symbolized by the Chapel of the Transfiguration within Grand Teton National Park.

Tetons

 

And what Nature-enthusiast could not sense the presence of God in such a glorious dawning!

Big Blue Lake

 

Or embrace the awe of sitting atop even one of our minor southern Appalachian ridge tops at Oak Mountain State Park. Not rivaling even the least of our Rocky Mountain peaks, King’s Chair (below) is what I have here in Alabama. I seek to unveil Nature’s beauty, magic, wonder, and Awe wherever I am.

Oak Mountain

 

And, no matter where I am, I glory in big trees. This white oak stands in a cathedral grove within Monte Sano State Park.

Monte Sano

 

Nature delivers so much more than I seek. May you find whatever you seek… wherever you look. John Muir made no bones about it:

In every walk with Nature one receives far more than he seeks.

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer three observations relevant to my maturing love affair with Nature:

  • Get Into… The Out There!
  • In every walk with Nature one receives far more than he seeks.
  • Muir — the whole universe appears as an infinite storm of beauty.

Inhale and absorb Nature’s elixir. May Nature Inspire, Inform, and Reward you!

 

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2021 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

Another Note: If you came to this post via a Facebook posting or by an another route, please sign up now (no cost… no obligation) to receive my Blog Post email alerts: http://eepurl.com/cKLJdL

And a Third: I am available for Nature-Inspired Speaking, Writing, and Consulting — contact me at steve.jones.0524@gmail.com

 

Reminder of my Personal and Professional Purpose, Passion, and Cause

If only more of us viewed our precious environment through the filters I employ. If only my mission and vision could be multiplied untold orders of magnitude:

Mission: Employ writing and speaking to educate, inspire, and enable readers and listeners to understand, appreciate, and enjoy Nature… and accept and practice Earth Stewardship.

Vision:

  • People of all ages will pay greater attention to and engage more regularly with Nature… and will accept and practice informed and responsible Earth Stewardship.
  • They will see their relationship to our natural world with new eyes… and will understand more clearly their Earth home.

Tagline/Motto: Steve (Great Blue Heron) encourages and seeks a better tomorrow through Nature-Inspired Living!

 

Steve’s Three Books

I wrote my books Nature Based Leadership (2016), Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading (2017), and Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits: Stories of Passion for Place and Everyday Nature (2019; co-authored with Dr. Jennifer Wilhoit) to encourage all citizens to recognize and appreciate that every lesson for living, learning, serving, and leading is either written indelibly in or is powerfully inspired by Nature.

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

  • I love hiking and exploring in Nature
  • I see images I want to (and do) capture with my trusty iPhone camera
  • I enjoy explaining those images — an educator at heart
  • I don’t play golf!
  • I actually do love writing — it’s the hobby I never needed when my career consumed me
  • Judy suggested my writing is in large measure my legacy to our two kids, our five grand kids, and all the unborn generations beyond
  • And finally, perhaps my books and Blogs could reach beyond family and touch a few other lives… sow some seeds for the future

Steve's BooksOak Mountain

 

All three of my books (Nature Based LeadershipNature-Inspired Learning and LeadingWeaned Seals and Snowy Summits) present compilations of personal experiences expressing my (and co-author Dr. Wilhoit for Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) deep passion for Nature. All three books offer observations and reflections on my relationship to the natural world… and the broader implications for society. Order any and all from your local indie bookstore, or find them on IndieBound or other online sources such as Amazon and LifeRich.

 

A Magnificent Cherrybark Oak on the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge

I revisited the bottomland hardwood forests on the eastern end of Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge (near Huntsville, Alabama) January 29, 2021. I wandered this time through a stand I had not previously entered. I characterize this stand as two-aged, a 70-90 year-old matrix punctuated with much older individuals, perhaps 120-plus years. I stood in amazement admiring this 52-inch-diameter (4.5 feet above the ground) cherrybark oak (Quercus pagoda), standing tall, straight, and occupying at least a quarter of an acre of main canopy area. This species is one of the most highly valued red oaks in the southern United States. It commonly grows on moist, rich sites, such as this terrace above the seasonally water-logged lower bottomlands, which in late January supported ankle-deep standing water. Its strong wood and straight form make it an excellent timber tree. Many wildlife species use its acorns as food.

HGH Road

 

Drawing from my years in the forest products industry, I saw two sixteen-foot veneer quality logs and a third high quality timber log up to the base of the spreading crown. The tree is at least 100 feet tall.

HGH Road

 

It stands regally among surrounding individuals within the younger forest. Its wide-reaching crown evidences that it did not face overwhelming competition from individuals growing alongside it. Even the larger trees beyond it do not express the dominating crown features of this object of my deep admiration. I do not limit my appreciation to this specimen’s timber value. In fact, now, 40 years since I left the Paper and Allied Products Manufacturing sector,  I pay little heed to commercial timber value. Instead, I see a magnificent living organism, one standing (literally) the test of time. Whether hugging its girth to extend my diameter tape or standing back to snap these two lower images, my heart soared with delight. In retrospect, I should have sat awhile nearby… as one would sit in a cathedral, intent on resonating with its spiritual aura, and making sacred connection.

HGH RoadHGH Road

 

My cherrybark oak was not the only member of its age class. I found two white oaks (Quercus alba) measuring 40- and 45-inches in diameter, respectively. Again, these individuals stand unique from the younger stand in which they are embedded. These two appear vibrant and healthy. Note, however, below right that a large neighboring red oak (Quercus rubra) has fallen directly toward the camera alongside the white oak, and lies decaying at the white oak’s base. The prostrate tree stood dead prior to falling, tumbling long after its roots lost firm grip on the soil. The distant base (at least 60 feet beyond the white oak) toppled with only coarse roots breaking, lifting no soil.

HGH RoadHGH Road

 

When large living trees are blown over and uprooted, they lift a large volume of soil. I snapped this photograph of a wind-felled red oak February 9, 2021, as I bushwhacked a nearby bottomland within a half-mile of the two white oaks. This nearby site evidenced a higher water table, and shallower rooting zone than where the cherrybark and two white oaks grew. Still, this individual lifted 8-10 inches of soil, holding tightly to the roots standing 15 feet tall.

HGH Road

 

Just a hundred yards from the white oaks, this 48-inch diameter red oak stands dead, its top decaying and dropping, branch by branch. At some point the remaining top will fall earthward or, like the red oak that had fallen alongside the white oak, it will let loose from its roothold. One might ponder what agent or cause is weakening or killing these forest giants. Absent seeing direct evidence of disease and rot, lightning strike, or other physical injury, I pose a simple answer: Old Age and Natural Causes. I’ve said often that life and death dance an ongoing forest waltz. Nothing in Nature is static. Although individual trees die, the forest goes on. The forest will not mourn the loss of any one tree. Instead, it recycles the fiber and nutrients that composed the regal old soldier.

HGH Road

 

Our bottomland forest systems are closed. The progression of life and death recycles and reuses, demonstrated convincingly in this stand, where dead and down woody biomass may exceed the volume standing.

 

I never tire of the stories our forests tell to the patient and persistent observer. Dynamism is the predominant theme. The cycle of life and death defines the forest.

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer three observations from my late January trek through the riparian forest:

  • Dynamism is a recurring forest theme
  • The cycle of life and death defines the forest
  • Each tree tells a story, demanding forest sleuthing 

Inhale and absorb Nature’s elixir. May Nature Inspire, Inform, and Reward you!

 

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2021 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

Another Note: If you came to this post via a Facebook posting or by an another route, please sign up now (no cost… no obligation) to receive my Blog Post email alerts: http://eepurl.com/cKLJdL

And a Third: I am available for Nature-Inspired Speaking, Writing, and Consulting — contact me at steve.jones.0524@gmail.com

 

Reminder of my Personal and Professional Purpose, Passion, and Cause

If only more of us viewed our precious environment through the filters I employ. If only my mission and vision could be multiplied untold orders of magnitude:

Mission: Employ writing and speaking to educate, inspire, and enable readers and listeners to understand, appreciate, and enjoy Nature… and accept and practice Earth Stewardship.

Vision:

  • People of all ages will pay greater attention to and engage more regularly with Nature… and will accept and practice informed and responsible Earth Stewardship.
  • They will see their relationship to our natural world with new eyes… and will understand more clearly their Earth home.

Tagline/Motto: Steve (Great Blue Heron) encourages and seeks a better tomorrow through Nature-Inspired Living!

 

Steve’s Three Books

I wrote my books Nature Based Leadership (2016), Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading (2017), and Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits: Stories of Passion for Place and Everyday Nature (2019; co-authored with Dr. Jennifer Wilhoit) to encourage all citizens to recognize and appreciate that every lesson for living, learning, serving, and leading is either written indelibly in or is powerfully inspired by Nature.

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

  • I love hiking and exploring in Nature
  • I see images I want to (and do) capture with my trusty iPhone camera
  • I enjoy explaining those images — an educator at heart
  • I don’t play golf!
  • I actually do love writing — it’s the hobby I never needed when my career consumed me
  • Judy suggested my writing is in large measure my legacy to our two kids, our five grand kids, and all the unborn generations beyond
  • And finally, perhaps my books and Blogs could reach beyond family and touch a few other lives… sow some seeds for the future

Steve's Books

 

All three of my books (Nature Based LeadershipNature-Inspired Learning and LeadingWeaned Seals and Snowy Summits) present compilations of personal experiences expressing my (and co-author Dr. Wilhoit for Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) deep passion for Nature. All three books offer observations and reflections on my relationship to the natural world… and the broader implications for society. Order any and all from your local indie bookstore, or find them on IndieBound or other online sources such as Amazon and LifeRich.

 

Early February Spectacular Frosty Morning Sky at the Goldsmith-Schiffman Wildlife Sanctuary

February 6, 2021, I met a small group of fellow Nature enthusiasts at Huntsville, Alabama’s Goldsmith-Schiffman Wildlife Sanctuary (G-SWS). Marian Moore-Lewis, author of Southern Sanctuary (a 12-month journey through the seasons at G-SWS), led my colleagues and me through the Sanctuary. This was their first visit to this exquisite wildness right in our backyard. I shared my prior Posts about the property with them in advance:

  • https://stevejonesgbh.com/2020/06/23/visiting-a-southern-sanctuary-my-orientation-visit/
  • https://stevejonesgbh.com/2020/06/30/visiting-a-southern-sanctuary-natures-insistence-upon-renewal/
  • https://stevejonesgbh.com/2020/12/23/late-fall-at-goldsmith-schiffman-wildlife-sanctuary/

I decided to draft yet another Post, spurred by the incredibly photogenic frosty morning and unmatched sky! We gathered at 27 degrees Fahrenheit, the air rich with moisture and all surfaces coated with delicate fingers and frostings of ice. A stalled cold front lay to our south, its associated cloud deck clearly visible in both photos below.

Sky and Nature as Art

I will never forget my love for a fresh snowy landscape showcased by a rising winter sun, wherever we lived further north. I can’t expect such mornings but rarely here in the deeper south. So, instead, I will delight in the magic of a sunlit heavy frost. The view is nearly as stunning as a snowy field and woodland, without the bother of shoveling my driveway, driving 30 miles on packed snow roadways, and anticipating and dealing with slush, dirtying snow piles, and then the black ice of refreezing. Mornings such as this one stir my soul and lift my spirits.

 

Of mornings such as this, Leonardo da Vinci observed simply:

Once you have tasted the sky, you will forever look up.

Could an artist paint a more lovely scene than this view (below) of absolute peace, tranquility, and contentment? A winter-dormant, fallow field; a barren treeline of leafless hardwoods; the sun backlighting thin, fair-weather clouds. Such an image stirs twin competing (or, complementing?) feelings. The first is deep humility… for, standing there in frosted awe, I realize that I am nothing more than an average human intellect within its fragile vessel for a brief moment in time. A human lifespan is nothing across the vast heartbeat of time. Consider my soon-to-be-seventy-years on planet Earth contrasted to the ultra-deep space, 13-billion-year-old-galaxy images that Hubble is now collecting. However, even with the deep humility, the same photograph below creates a sense of overwhelming inspiration, countering the brief sense of woe and insignificance. I remind myself that this lifetime is all I have, my only window for embracing the humility and reveling in Nature’s inspiration. Imagine how empty and bereft a life could be without deeply inhaling the glory of mornings in the wildness that lies all around us.

 

I refuse to miss any such mornings. I accept and embrace each day as a gift… for that is exactly what every dawning is. John Muir said it all:

The grand show is eternal. It is always sunrise somewhere.

And my friend (a fellow Earth-traveler who reaches across 500 years to show and teach) Leonardo da Vinci, observed so eloquently:

Principles for the Development of a Complete Mind: Study the science of art. Study the art of science. Develop your senses- especially learn how to see. Realize that everything connects to everything else.

I appreciate Nature’s aesthetic, in large measure, because I understand it… through my own deep scientific study (PhD in applied ecology), and practice of the art of my scientific discipline. And, I understand from observing relentlessly and passionately across seven decades of Nature-absorbed life and living. Some say that beauty is only skin deep. The scene below is indeed beautiful in its two-dimensional glory. Yet, I see the ecological significance of its multidimensional tale of atmospheric physics, seasonal fluxes, ecotonal implications, and diurnal fluxes. I have said frequently that every place in Nature has a compelling story to tell. The story implied below could fill a volume… no, many volumes. I have finally, after all these years, learned how to see… after first learning how to look.

 

As the frost begins to melt in the quickening sun, the now-stationary front lies visibly across the southern horizon. When it passed south over us two days prior, the system dropped a third of an inch of rain. I knew that it had stalled, and was forecast to retreat northward, returning rain to us within 24 hours. Overnight and the next day, I measured another one-half inch. Would I have enjoyed the image below as much had I no clue of its weather implications? I think not. Peel away enough layers of the onion, and the onion is gone. Each layer of science within Nature strengthens the story, deepens the plot, and multiplies my appreciation.

 

Again, da Vinci nailed it:

Nothing can be loved or hated unless it is first understood.

The noblest pleasure is the joy of understanding.

I thrill and revel in understanding the nuances, layers, and lessons embedded in all things of Nature. I have said time and again that every lesson for living, learning, leading, and serving is either written indelibly in or is compellingly inspired by Nature.

Additional Observations

For those willing to look and eager to see, the sky resides above… and below, here reflected flawlessly in the placid water of Jobala Pond, a now-naturalized 70-year-old gravel and sand pit mined for a nearby public road. Although early-February is still winter, even this far south, the alder leaning over the water and reflected on the pond’s surface is bursting in three-inch catkins, its male spring flowers. Seasons here do not rush into action… they slow transition one into another.

 

A side note: eleven days later (February 17) we measured six inches of snow; a week after that (February 24) I hiked the nearby Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge at 70 degrees!

HGH Road

 

We walked along a secondary arm of the Flint River, this segment embracing the island across from my colleagues, and rejoining the primary channel another 100 yards downstream, just beyond sight. I include these photos simply to evidence the diversity of habitats and ecotones on the Sanctuary. The photo below right signals the dynamic environment along a river that flushes in rapid torrents several times a year, scouring sandy banks, exposing tree roots, and shifting channels. Life along the river is never static. So, too, nothing in Nature is static.

 

And, finally, I leave you with a significant Eastern red cedar burl (a tree tumor, if you will), one that would make a beautiful bowl in the hands of the right wood-turner.

 

I’ve yet to enter Nature without discovering something unexpected… and, even the expected yields immeasurable reward, satisfaction, and fulfillment. Yes, the grand show is eternal. It is always sunrise somewhere.

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer three observations borrowed from Muir and da Vinci:

  • Once you have tasted the sky, you will forever look up
  • The grand show is eternal. It is always sunrise somewhere
  • The noblest pleasure is the joy of understanding Nature

Inhale and absorb Nature’s elixir. May Nature Inspire, Inform, Humble, and Reward you!

 

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2021 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

Another Note: If you came to this post via a Facebook posting or by an another route, please sign up now (no cost… no obligation) to receive my Blog Post email alerts: http://eepurl.com/cKLJdL

And a Third: I am available for Nature-Inspired Speaking, Writing, and Consulting — contact me at steve.jones.0524@gmail.com

 

Reminder of my Personal and Professional Purpose, Passion, and Cause

If only more of us viewed our precious environment through the filters I employ. If only my mission and vision could be multiplied untold orders of magnitude:

Mission: Employ writing and speaking to educate, inspire, and enable readers and listeners to understand, appreciate, and enjoy Nature… and accept and practice Earth Stewardship.

Vision:

  • People of all ages will pay greater attention to and engage more regularly with Nature… and will accept and practice informed and responsible Earth Stewardship.
  • They will see their relationship to our natural world with new eyes… and will understand more clearly their Earth home.

Tagline/Motto: Steve (Great Blue Heron) encourages and seeks a better tomorrow through Nature-Inspired Living!

 

Steve’s Three Books

I wrote my books Nature Based Leadership (2016), Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading (2017), and Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits: Stories of Passion for Place and Everyday Nature (2019; co-authored with Dr. Jennifer Wilhoit) to encourage all citizens to recognize and appreciate that every lesson for living, learning, serving, and leading is either written indelibly in or is powerfully inspired by Nature.

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

  • I love hiking and exploring in Nature
  • I see images I want to (and do) capture with my trusty iPhone camera
  • I enjoy explaining those images — an educator at heart
  • I don’t play golf!
  • I actually do love writing — it’s the hobby I never needed when my career consumed me
  • Judy suggested my writing is in large measure my legacy to our two kids, our five grand kids, and all the unborn generations beyond
  • And finally, perhaps my books and Blogs could reach beyond family and touch a few other lives… sow some seeds for the future

Steve's Books

 

All three of my books (Nature Based LeadershipNature-Inspired Learning and LeadingWeaned Seals and Snowy Summits) present compilations of personal experiences expressing my (and co-author Dr. Wilhoit for Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) deep passion for Nature. All three books offer observations and reflections on my relationship to the natural world… and the broader implications for society. Order any and all from your local indie bookstore, or find them on IndieBound or other online sources such as Amazon and LifeRich.

 

Dawn Sky Glory December 19, 2020

Saturday, December 19, 2020 dawned gloriously without ceremony. Too few people witnessed the day’s beginning… only a handful of us intrepid souls apparently had no penchant for late Friday nights, choosing instead early Saturday risings. Judy and I perform our daily pre-dawn 1.5-mile neighborhood walk irrespective of whether it is weekday or weekend.

I offer a 30-minute sequence of dawn-sky-show from that near-solstice winter morning. The sun at that time of year here in north Alabama rises nearly 30 degrees south of due east, a full 60-degree swing from the summer solstice. Daylight arrives an hour and 15 minutes later on December 19 compared to six months prior (hours adjusted for DST and ST). I did not know the nuances of the term dawn until researching and drafting this Post. Science recognizes three stages of dawn: astronomical; nautical; and civil. Here are the delineations for December 19:

Astronomical Dawn (center point of sun reaches 18 degrees below the horizon): 5:18 AM

Nautical Dawn (center point of sun reaches 12 degrees below the horizon): 5:49 AM

Civil Dawn (center point of sun reaches 6 degrees below the horizon): 6:20 AM

Daylight (center point of sun rises above the horizon): 6:48 AM

We’ll keep these in mind for the following photos and discussion. I arise early enough daily to know that astronomical dawn hints at its arrival only to spring birds, whose faith in the new day, and some sixth sense of anticipation that I do not share, signal their morning romance-induced song-burst. We began our walk at the onset of nautical dawn, when the band of sky-brightening is visible in the ESE sky. Although most of our route confines us within a suburban development, we passed a vacant lot bounded to the east by a woodlot at 6:15. At the tail end of nautical dawn, the sky has begun to blaze.

Nautical Dawn

 

Big Blue Lake

 

Four minutes make a visible difference as we near civil dawn at 6:19 AM.

Big Blue Lake

 

Civil Dawn

No other point along our route permitted unobstructed view of the new day’s sky. We returned home where I assumed my flat-on-my-back sky-viewing position atop our garden wall near the edge of Big Blue Lake (my name for the four-acre pond on whose northern shore we reside). This series of photos begins at 6:42 AM and runs four minutes to just before the official sunrise. Over those few minutes, dawn transitioned from lovely to just shy of spectacular. Applying the old adage of “You should quit while you’re ahead,” I ceased snapping photos when the progress shifted into its waning phase. I won’t offer much commentary. A photo is, in fact, worth a thousand words… photo language is far richer than my own feeble and unworthy verbiage.

Cirrus and altocumulus clouds provided the matrix upon which advancing dawn marched its colors toward sunrise. Cirrus are the wispy, paint-stroke clouds high above… 20,000 feet and higher, composed of ice crystals (even on hot summer days). Altocumulus are mid-level cotton balls from 6,500 to 20,000. The two types are clearly distinguishable in this series of dawn photos, these first two at 6:42.

Big Blue Lake

Big Blue Lake

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Change accompanied the swing of the second hand, these two at 6:43.

Big Blue Lake

 

I witnessed subtle image alterations depending upon how I pointed the camera… perspectives not apparent through the viewfinder. Upon viewing later, the photo below left reminded me of the view from high Earth orbit, as though looking down on an ocean partially obscured by a cloud deck, again at 6:43. The image below right took me back to looking up (out), the cirrus once more visible beyond the altocumulus.

Big Blue Lake

 

By 6:44 and 6:45 (below) the cirrus has further brightened as the altocumulus glows a little more deeply.

Big Blue Lake

 

The morning spectacle reached its zenith at 6:46, two minutes before sunrise, below the same perspective in full color and black and white.

Big Blue LakeBig Blue Lake

 

 

This dawn series calls Joyce Kilmer’s verse to mind:

“Poems are made by fools like me,

But only God can make a tree.”

Or a sunrise; a sunset; a snowy woods; a cloud-draped mountain; and infinite other snapshots of Nature’s beauty, magic, wonder, and awe!

Big Blue Lake

 

As so often is the case, John Muir anticipated my dawn-sky reflections:

When we contemplate the whole globe as one great dewdrop, striped and dotted with continents and islands, flying through space with other stars all singing and shining together as one, the whole universe appears as an infinite storm of beauty.

Thoughts and Reflections

 

Thirty minutes of quiet dawn sky contemplation can encapsulate a lifetime of Nature-Inspiration:

  • Exquisite colors
  • Fanciful patterns
  • Unlimited peace, tranquility, and promise

Inhale and absorb Nature’s elixir. May Nature Inspire, Inform, and Reward you!

 

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2021 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

Another Note: If you came to this post via a Facebook posting or by an another route, please sign up now (no cost… no obligation) to receive my Blog Post email alerts: http://eepurl.com/cKLJdL

And a Third: I am available for Nature-Inspired Speaking, Writing, and Consulting — contact me at steve.jones.0524@gmail.com

 

Reminder of my Personal and Professional Purpose, Passion, and Cause

If only more of us viewed our precious environment through the filters I employ. If only my mission and vision could be multiplied untold orders of magnitude:

Mission: Employ writing and speaking to educate, inspire, and enable readers and listeners to understand, appreciate, and enjoy Nature… and accept and practice Earth Stewardship.

Vision:

  • People of all ages will pay greater attention to and engage more regularly with Nature… and will accept and practice informed and responsible Earth Stewardship.
  • They will see their relationship to our natural world with new eyes… and will understand more clearly their Earth home.

Tagline/Motto: Steve (Great Blue Heron) encourages and seeks a better tomorrow through Nature-Inspired Living!

 

Steve’s Three Books

I wrote my books Nature Based Leadership (2016), Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading (2017), and Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits: Stories of Passion for Place and Everyday Nature (2019; co-authored with Dr. Jennifer Wilhoit) to encourage all citizens to recognize and appreciate that every lesson for living, learning, serving, and leading is either written indelibly in or is powerfully inspired by Nature.

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

  • I love hiking and exploring in Nature
  • I see images I want to (and do) capture with my trusty iPhone camera
  • I enjoy explaining those images — an educator at heart
  • I don’t play golf!
  • I actually do love writing — it’s the hobby I never needed when my career consumed me
  • Judy suggested my writing is in large measure my legacy to our two kids, our five grand kids, and all the unborn generations beyond
  • And finally, perhaps my books and Blogs could reach beyond family and touch a few other lives… sow some seeds for the future

Steve's BooksBig Blue Lake

 

All three of my books (Nature Based Leadership; Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading; Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) present compilations of personal experiences expressing my (and co-author Dr. Wilhoit for Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) deep passion for Nature. All three books offer observations and reflections on my relationship to the natural world… and the broader implications for society. Order any and all from your local indie bookstore, or find them on IndieBound or other online sources such as Amazon and LifeRich.

 

A Tough Hike and Deep Reward at Rocky Gap State Park in Western Maryland

I grew up in Cumberland, MD, nearly 150 miles west of the Baltimore/DC area. Located along the Potomac River deep in the Central Appalachians, Cumberland served as a transportation hub (roads; rails, and canal) and industrial center for many decades.

C&O Canal

 

I issued a Post in November 2019 after returning to Cumberland for my 50th high school reunion: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2019/11/20/a-taste-of-mid-september-nature-at-the-co-canal-national-historic-park/ During my youth we took great pride that we lived in Maryland’s second largest city (by population) trailing only Baltimore. Today eleven other Maryland municipalities outrank Cumberland. The region is now a recreation center and destination. Rocky Gap State Park (and Resort) lies just ten miles east of the city. Once again visiting Cumberland, I spent a day at the Park September 26, 2020, hiking from Lake Habeeb (1,150′ elevation) to the summit of Evitts Mountain (2,296′) along the Mason and Dixon Line (the border between Maryland and Pennsylvania).

 

Rocky GapRocky Gap

 

Come with me as I hike the elevation transect, offering reflections on trees, non-tree woody vegetation, a couple tree form oddities, and other Nature elements. An hour into my upward trek, I stood aside to allow a 20-something trail runner to descend past me. I inquired whether he had been to the summit. He respond, “Yes. The view is spectacular.” I recalled my younger days as a distance runner, when my endurance and still-spry knees would have taken me to the top and return with relative ease. An effort, yes, but not a six-hour walking marathon reliant upon trekking poles! Yet the trail runner spurred me to accept and meet the peak-trekking challenge.

The Gap

 

I visited the actual Gap as a teenager, several years before the Park opened in 1974. The State was in the process of acquiring the eventual property package of 3,000 acres. Back then we hiked to the overlook and scrambled down into the chasm. I began my recent hike via the short trail (below left; photo with my Alabama grandsons summer 2019) to the canyon overlook (below right).

Rocky Gap

Rocky Gap

 

I departed the overlook heading north on a connector trail to reach the Evitts Mountain summit path, first dropping into the head of the Gap stream (below right) several hundred yards downstream of the Habeeb Lake dam. The view as I descended (below left) is to the northwest showing the toe of Evitts Mountain as it tails into the Gap. From this vantage point, the trail dropped into and across the stream (at about the 1,000 foot contour), from which I began the nearly 1,300-foot ascent to the summit photo point (see later) just across the Mason-Dixon Line in Pennsylvania. I’ve written often on the effect of elevation on climate and weather. In the annual seasonal sweep of the seasons, a difference of 1,300 vertical feet accounts for about 11 days. That is, at 1,000-feet, spring arrives 11 days earlier and summer departs 11 days later than at the summit. That’s three additional weeks of summer at the lower elevation and three additional weeks of winter atop Evitts Mountain. I recall growing up when a winter storm might bring wet snow (little coated other than grassy surfaces) to Cumberland (the Potomac River at ~700 feet elevation). When the storm clouds cleared, Evitts Mountain (I could see it from my high school) and other ridges glowed in pure, dazzling, and glimmering white. I’ve driven from watery flakes in Cumberland to a near-blinding blizzard atop the 2,900-foot Allegany Front just a dozen miles to the west. On this recent hike, I could feel discernably cooler temperatures and a fresher breeze at the summit.

Rocky GapRocky Gap

 

That connector segment down into the canyon and then up to the summit trail offered the circuit’s steepest terrain and greatest challenge. As I begin my 70th year (69th birthday back in July), steep downhills are particularly problematic. Thank goodness the actual summit trail follows an old access road (a generous application of the term) leading to the powerline and USGS monument at the summit. I commend the Maryland Park Service for its excellent signage and trail markings.

Rocky Gap

 

I do confess to wondering how much longer my knees can tolerate my more aggressive wildness wanderings. I find such contemplation worrisome. For now I shall relish every step and each venture.

A Few Trees Species Encountered

I worked for the Maryland Forest Service during my junior/senior-year summer as a Forester’s Aid on the Green Ridge State Forest, visible from the summit view to the east (see later). From the Maryland Forest Service website: At 49,000 acres, Green Ridge is the largest contiguous block of public land in Maryland. Green Ridge is located within the Ridge and Valley Province of the Appalachian Mountains. It is rich in both natural and cultural heritage and remains a “working forest” today as it is managed by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources Forest Service to conserve the natural ecological processes while supporting the economy of the region through an active forest management program. The Maryland Forest Service Mission is to restore, manage, and protect Maryland’s trees, forests, and forested ecosystems to sustain our natural resources and connect people to the land.

That summer sent my heart soaring…I was in forestry-student heaven. My supervisor, John Mash, joyed in sharing his knowledge and experience with an eager and impressionable future forester. Through the lens of the 48 years since then, I view John (since deceased) as a superlative forester, naturalist, historian, and teacher. He authored the definitive The Land of the Living: The Story of Maryland’s Green Ridge State Forest in 1996. I sit here typing with a signed copy of John’s 895-page tome on my lap. Here is the paragraph from the inside front cover:

This is the story of a forgotten part of Maryland that has never seen its story in print. This is the story of the eastern portion of Allegany County, Maryland. Today the character of this area is rural, sparsely populated and a large portion is owned as a public forest. The history of this land is rich and fascinating: royalty, squatters, moonshiners and murderers have made their presence known here as well as Nazi prisoners, slaves and turn of the century capitalists. The story describes the history of the land, its plants and animals, and the people who wrought out their existence here.

Since retiring, I have written about what I call Nature-Inspired Life and Living. I have said time and again that every parcel of wildness, at least here in the east, incorporates a tale at the intersection of human and natural history. Until I revisited John’s book preparing this Post, I had not consciously made the connection that my old friend and mentor lived, breathed, and professed those same sentiments and philosophy a half-century ago as I learned under his watchful eye. Like so many who have molded this person I have become, John left an indelible mark that I am only just now realizing and acknowledging. Thank you, John!

I offered those reflections to introduce some of the tree species I encountered at Rocky Gap that spur memories of my season on the State Forest and my countless woods-ramblings growing up in western Maryland. This is not an exhaustive list, just a few highlights. Virginia pine (Pinus virginiana) tops the evergreen list, prolific across these sharp ridges and steep hillsides. The species tolerates poor shale-derived soils and frequent periods of moisture stress. The region, the driest in Maryland, receives less than 35-inches of rainfall (including melted snow) annually. It lies in the Allegany Front rain shadow.

Rocky GapRocky Gap

 

Table mountain pine (Pinus pungens) also proliferates…and tolerates these dry and impoverished sites.

Rocky GapRocky Gap

 

Eastern white pine (Pinus strobus; below left) is also common, but does not reign supreme as it does on richer sites and favorable soils in the higher Appalachians (Great Smoky Mountains and Blue Ridge), and into New England. I found Eastern Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis; below right) creekside, an environment where it occurs throughout the Green Ridge State Forest.

Rocky GapRocky Gap

 

Black gum or black tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica) is a prevalent understory to mid-canopy inhabitant of this region. From the USDA Hardwood Silvics manual: Black tupelo grows in the uplands and in alluvial stream bottoms from southwestern Maine to New York, to extreme southern Ontario, central Michigan, Illinois, and central Missouri, and south to eastern Oklahoma, eastern Texas, and southern Florida. It is local in central and southern Mexico. Optimum development is made on lower slopes and terraces in the Southeastern United States. Black gum is not a main canopy component within Rocky Gap’s upland forests. Yet the species provided the earliest color along my transect (see below). For that I was grateful.

Rocky GapRocky Gap

 

I have no recollection of previously meeting a species of oak I found along the trail, bear oak (Quercus ilicifolia). Although I reviewed several online sources for information, Wikipedia offered a succinct and scientifically accurate summary: Quercus ilicifolia, commonly known as bear oak or scrub oak, is a small shrubby oak native to the eastern United States and southeastern Canada. Its range extends in the United States from Maine to North Carolina, with reports of a few populations north of the international frontier in Ontario. From the International Oak Society website: While the species abruptly stops south of Virginia border, there are two extant populations of bear oak in North Carolina at Pilot Mountain and Crowder’s Mountain. Within its range, bear oak is restricted to high mountain tops, rock outcrops, and pine barrens. I am glad I stumbled across this not-so-common species.

Rocky Gap

 

Other Woody Vegetation

 

It’s not just common trees that spirit me back to those memories from forest-ramblings during a summer 48 years ago. I encountered four understory woody species that prompted recollections from my youth. Mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia; below left) is a broadleaved evergreen shrub in the heather family, Ericaceae, that is native to the eastern United States. Its range stretches from southern Maine south to northern Florida, and west to Indiana and Louisiana. I found it ubiquitous here in northern Alabama. The same holds for great rhododendron (Rhododendron maximum; below right), which extends from southern Canada through to the southern Appalachians. I find it often in moist protected hollows and streamsides from Huntsville into the Talladega National Forest here in Alabama. It reminds me of home, that place where I began my addiction to Nature.

Rocky GapRocky Gap

 

Another local northern Alabama species that transports me back to the central Appalachians is mapleleaf viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium; below left). Wikipedia notes that the mapleleaf viburnum, maple-leaved arrowwood or dockmackie, is a species of Viburnum, native to eastern North America from southwestern Quebec and Ontario south to northern Florida and eastern Texas. Roundleaf greebrier (Smilax rotundifolia; below right), is a species I’m familiar with from my field-forestry days, as common locally here in the southern Appalachians as it is at Rocky Gap.

Rocky GapRocky Gap

 

I could have spent hours and days completing a tree and woody plant inventory on my late September Rocky Gap trek. I did not mention the many other oak species I noted (northern red, white, chestnut), shagbark and mockernut hickory, yellow poplar, and red and sugar maple, among others. Suffice it to say that mine was a superficial exploration, and deep spiritual immersion in memories of growing up… personally and professionally.

Special Tree Forms

 

I’m always on alert for what I term as tree form oddities. I noticed many hollow-trunked trees all along my trek. This chestnut oak (Quercus prinus) had finally passed the threshold where its rind of sound wood could no longer support the weight and leverage of its 70-foot stem blowing in the stiff hilltop breezes. Wind twisted and torqued the stem clockwise, reached a point of failure, and brought the tree downwind to the ground. Decay fungi, long content to feast on the tree’s interior wood, will complete their work on the standing snag and the now prostrate trunk. A question I had too little evidence to answer: what wound provided the court of infection that led to entry of the decay organism? Among other possibilities are: lightning strike; a long-ago fire; a buck-rub when the tree stood as a sapling; a bark scar from a falling nearby tree.

Rocky Gap

 

This mockernut hickory (Carya tomentosa) suggests its own compelling story. The top photo (below) appears to be a robust 12-inch diameter stem, growing normally.

Rocky Gap

 

But the top photo does not depict this tree form oddity. The left image below shows that at some point many years ago, some compelling force (likely a nearby tree falling) crushed the then much younger hickory to the ground. Not dead the prostrate hickory sent a shoot skyward some six feet from its original union with the ground. Although badly crushed and broken, the stump (now deeply hollowed) managed to sustain the new sprout, which flourished and now stands as a vertical hickory reaching into the main canopy. The still-living tree has successfully calloused the wounded downed tree beyond the vertical stem. The image below right shows the hollowed and horizontal original trunk, serving now with its accumulated organic debris as a planter of sorts. I am confident that the decay responsible for the hollowed section extends into the upright stem. Note also from that perspective that the vertical stem is canted some 15 degrees to the right, suggesting that the hollowed horizontal support beam is weakening and torqueing in response. Basic and rudimentary physics control so many actions in Nature. Nothing defies gravity for long… nor withstands decay organisms.

Rocky GapRocky Gap

 

Every single thing in Nature tells a story, whether our deformed hickory… or the old resin-soaked pine tree core (below) I pulled from its stump hole. The resin serves as an effective wood preservative. The outer wood, bark, and the tree above it had long since returned to the soil. I refer to these old remnants as terrestrial driftwood, weathered in-place by the passage of time and persistent forces of deterioration. I knew such an artful specimen would have accented several spots in my home landscape beds. However, I left it where I photographed it for several reasons: I found it in a State Park; it weighed upward of twenty pounds; I still had several miles to cover. Such bounty serves me best when I am not in a protected area and when the effort required is within my limits.

Rocky Gap

 

So, I chose to harvest a photograph and a memory. Truth is, such is the principal yield of all my Nature wanderings. Inspiration and satisfaction can’t be stuffed into a tucker bag. Instead, I attempt in these Posts to share my harvested inspiration with words and photographs.

Early Fall Flowers, Fungi, and Ferns

 

I had originally hoped to include this section and its associated photos in this single comprehensive Post. I can’t do it. Enough is enough! I’ll spin-off a second Post from my rewarding day at Rocky Gap State Park. Watch for it.

Summit, Mason-Dixon Line, and Return to Lake Habeeb

 

As with early fall flowers, fungi, and ferns, I thought I could squeeze a full discussion of the summit, Mason-Dixon Line, and Return to Lake Habeeb into this single Post. Again, Post-space and length argue against creating a too-large reflection and photo essay. So, watch for yet another subsequent Post.

I’ll close this Post with three photos with little text. A view from the summit east, encompassing some of Green Ridge State Forest.

Rocky Gap

 

Trail marker at the Mason and Dixon Line.

Rocky Gap

 

 

Lake Habeeb.

Rocky Gap

 

I am pondering the following: had I been dropped off at Rocky Gap’s Lake Habeeb with no revelation as to its location near my hometown, would I have enjoyed and appreciated the hike. I think that I would have found it fascinating, inspirational, and deeply enjoyable for its vegetation, topography, and the stories I could read from the land and forest. I also would have felt the homing beacon powerfully. There would have been no denying the unmistakable evidence that I was, in clear fact, home. I was a salmon returning to the headwater stream where I first saw life. I was once again in my mother’s arms and under Dad’s watchful and loving eye on one of our hundreds of Nature treks. That’s the extraordinary Nature of place that is indelibly written in my head, heart, mind, body, and soul. I am a creature and product of place… place defined by Nature.

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer three lessons from my late September revisit to Rocky Gap:

  • The extraordinary Nature of place is indelibly written in my head, heart, mind, body, and soul. I am a creature and product of place… place defined by Nature.
  • Countless days in Nature define my life across these 69 years — I look, see, and feel Nature’s beauty, magic, wonder, and awe… and find immeasurable lift.
  • My connection to Nature is unmistakably SACRED!

Inhale and absorb Nature’s elixir. May Nature Inspire, Inform, and Reward you!

 

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2020 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

Another Note: If you came to this post via a Facebook posting or by an another route, please sign up now (no cost… no obligation) to receive my Blog Post email alerts: http://eepurl.com/cKLJdL

And a Third: I am available for Nature-Inspired Speaking, Writing, and Consulting — contact me at steve.jones.0524@gmail.com

 

Reminder of my Personal and Professional Purpose, Passion, and Cause

If only more of us viewed our precious environment through the filters I employ. If only my mission and vision could be multiplied untold orders of magnitude:

Mission: Employ writing and speaking to educate, inspire, and enable readers and listeners to understand, appreciate, and enjoy Nature… and accept and practice Earth Stewardship.

Vision:

  • People of all ages will pay greater attention to and engage more regularly with Nature… and will accept and practice informed and responsible Earth Stewardship.
  • They will see their relationship to our natural world with new eyes… and will understand more clearly their Earth home.

Tagline/Motto: Steve (Great Blue Heron) encourages and seeks a better tomorrow through Nature-Inspired Living!

 

Steve’s Three Books

I wrote my books Nature Based Leadership (2016), Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading (2017), and Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits: Stories of Passion for Place and Everyday Nature (2019; co-authored with Dr. Jennifer Wilhoit) to encourage all citizens to recognize and appreciate that every lesson for living, learning, serving, and leading is either written indelibly in or is powerfully inspired by Nature.

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

  • I love hiking and exploring in Nature
  • I see images I want to (and do) capture with my trusty iPhone camera
  • I enjoy explaining those images — an educator at heart
  • I don’t play golf!
  • I actually do love writing — it’s the hobby I never needed when my career consumed me
  • Judy suggested my writing is in large measure my legacy to our two kids, our five grand kids, and all the unborn generations beyond
  • And finally, perhaps my books and Blogs could reach beyond family and touch a few other lives… sow some seeds for the future

Steve's BooksRocky Gap

 

All three of my books (Nature Based Leadership; Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading; Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) present compilations of personal experiences expressing my (and co-author Dr. Wilhoit for Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) deep passion for Nature. All three books offer observations and reflections on my relationship to the natural world… and the broader implications for society. Order any and all from your local indie bookstore, or find them on IndieBound or other online sources such as Amazon and LifeRich.

 

Earth Day Visit to the Cathedral Forest along the Wells Memorial Trail at Monte Sano State Park

Earth Day (April 22, 2020) Judy and I (along with 12-year-old grandson Jack) hiked Sinks, Keith, and Wells Memorial Trails at Monte Sano State Park. Because we were continuing to deal with Covid-19 restrictions, Jack sat in the third-row SUV seat and all of us wore face masks while in the vehicle. On the trails we peeled our masks and maintained social distance. I’ve written and published several times on the Wells Memorial Trail…my favorite Monte Sano trail because of its special quality and rich cove site and cathedral forest. Here is my December 4, 2019 Wells Post: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2019/12/04/memory-and-legacy-for-a-sailor-and-hero/

You’ll see below why I feel a sacred connection to the Wells Trail. I’m a softy for rich sites, towering hardwoods, and a throwback to old growth forest conditions. My doctoral research in the mid-eighties evaluated soil-site conditions in the ninety-or-so-year-old second-growth Allegheny hardwood forests of southwest New York and northwest Pennsylvania. That is, I related forest productivity to a suite of quantifiable soil and site factors, such as slope steepness, slope position, slope shape, aspect, and soil depth and texture. Now 470 miles south of my research area, some of the same site quality relationships hold. Here are a few that relate to the Wells site richness:

  • Concave slope shape
  • Lower slope position
  • Deep soil
  • Sheltered location

Let’s examine the photo evidence.

Cathedral Forest

 

I recall the little guy when he stood barley taller than knee-high; I no longer tower above him. He’ll reach taller than I soon enough. So much, including tree tops more than a hundred feet above us, to remind me of my relative insignificance in the sweep of time and the grandeur of place. Such a powerful lesson in humility… watching a grandchild pass so quickly from toddler to near-teenager, and standing together within a forest cathedral.

Monte SanoMonte Sano

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We stroll through the forest… and race through time. I’ve often quoted Bernard Malamud (The Natural), “We have two lives… the life we learn with and the life we live after that.” I admit that I am in that second life. Though still learning, I am busy sorting, applying, and reflecting upon what I learned during those first six decades. Life seemed to be all-consuming when we were living the child-raising and career-advancing period. We focused on what lay ahead, each day taking us closer. Today, in this second life, now is what matters most. I tend more toward the brake and less on the gas pedal. Acceleration to what lies ahead is of no interest. I want to sit in the forest, inhale its essence, dream a bit, and marvel at its supreme beauty, magic, wonder, and awe.

Monte SanoMonte Sano

 

And who could not feel sacred connection to these towering yellow poplars? Sure, I’ve been to the redwood groves, the coastal Douglas fir Pacific Northwest rain forests, and stood shaken beneath Yosemite’s giant sequoias. Admittedly even our grandest eastern hardwood forests pale in comparison to those globally significant ancient forests. However, I’ve disciplined myself to partition those impressions, refusing to hold those exemplars as the scale against which I gauge forest appreciation.

I recall standing along the track during practice rounds for a pro-amateur track meet during my Penn State faculty days. I watched and listened as D-I university high-hurdlers blasted past, with heavy breathing, pounding footfalls, and heels tipping the hurdles. I then stood in awe as former world record holder for 110-meters Renaldo Nehemiah approached at full speed… silently and without apparent effort, floating over the hurdles, feet seeming not to hit the track surface. How could I ever enjoy another hurdles competition if I judged all against the super human Nehemiah?

Similarly, I consumed fresh world-renowned salmon and halibut often when we lived in Alaska. Upon returning to the lower 48, we did not eat domestic, non-Alaska salmon and halibut for a couple of years, our standards too discriminating. However, after a period of re-calibrating, I once more enjoy eastern USA salmon and halibut.

So it is with our eastern USA hardwood forests. I stand among the Wells Trail poplars and oaks, absorbing their magnificence, transported emotionally and spiritually, lifted to full appreciation and reverence. My connection is sacred. My soul soars. I thank god for Nature’s exquisite inspiration. I apply Teddy Roosevelt’s wisdom to appreciating Nature, “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” I accept what they are… their glory where they are… without holding them to a redwood or sequoia standard.

Monte SanoMonte Sano

 

These lofty sylvan citizens are right here at Monte Sano State Park, just 30 minutes from my home. The nearest redwoods, sequoia, and Douglas fir are a continent away.

Monte SanoMonte Sano

 

I consider the Wells cathedral forest as transitioning into old growth status, yet I know these are second-growth forests. The wind-toppled hickory below blocked the trail within the past year. The trail crew cut through the trunk this past winter to reopen the path without diversion. I stopped to make a very rough ring count, difficult without a hand lens. Some squirrel buried the source hickory nut 150-200 years ago, a point in time when the General Sherman (a sequoia, the world’s largest living tree) was already 2,000 years old. Now that’s old!

Monte Sano

Wells Trail Monte Sano

 

 

 

 

 

NOTE: I interrupt this Post with an Alert. I revisited Wells Trail May 12, 2020 and discovered yet another large hickory (three-foot diameter) uprooted, within 200 feet of the one above. This second individual stood just 15 feet off the trail. It has fallen since my prior visit, likely toppling with the high winds that passed through north Alabama just a week or so ago. It fell parallel (withing 10 degrees) of its predecessor. In fact, I wondered whether the huge canopy vacancy left by the other may have contributed, the void allowing this new victim to lean further in that direction absent the physical support of the first, surpassing a leverage threshold beyond which the roots could hold.

Monte Sano Wells TrailMonte Sano Wells Trail

 

 

 

 

As I’ve repeated time and time again, nothing in Nature is static. Now back to my Earth Day photos and reflections:

In the Wells stand, even chestnut oak, more commonly a scruffy ridge-top resident, grows fat, straight, and tall.

Monte Sano

 

But all along the Trail  is not towering trees. As I’ve commented often, I do not limit my discoveries to the regal few. Instead, I seek the unusual… the tree form oddities that catch my eye and stimulate my imagination. I offer a little sleuthing to explain the peculiar.

Tree Form Oddities

Sugar maple, the New England species of Maple syrup fame, persists into our north Alabama Appalachian forests, but not often as a main canopy occupant. I see it mostly as an understory component, occasionally reaching into the intermediate canopy. Such individuals aren’t younger trees newly developed in the forest shade. They are likely the same age as the dominant upper story poplars, oak, and hickories on Monte Sano. They are shade tolerant, persisting for decades in deep shade, awaiting some main canopy disturbance to afford greater sunlight and an opportunity to reach skyward. This gnarled, twisted, and tortured sapling will never reach toward the heavens. Perhaps a tree or large branch fell from above scarring this individual. The damage is clearly physical. Not a grave wound, just one that will mark it for life and limit its future.

Monte Sano

 

Imagine the yellow poplar below left with an adjacent twin perhaps two decades ago. Now picture the twin breaking away about two feet above ground from wind or an ice load. Due to its living union with the remaining twin, the stump’s distal side remained alive without benefit of its own canopy. It continues to grow, and in combination with the residual tree is callousing over the wound. Within the next decade, the surviving twin will have an oddly-seamed base, but will otherwise appear intact, the scar and damage hidden from view. Only the astute aware observer will read the external evidence to trace a history written in the foreign language of scar tissue. Similarly the two-foot diameter, calloused stump ring below right belies the reality of a long-broken-off yellow poplar individual. The stump remains alive courtesy of root union with the poplar three-feet out of view beyond the photo’s right margin. See the yellow poplar stump suckers on the left rim. Every thing in Nature tells a story to those who know the language of interpretation.

Monte SanoMonte Sano

 

I slipped a leafed-twig of this redbud at the branch union to serve as tree identification. This gnarly burl evidences a somewhat benign infectious agent. I say “somewhat” because while the burl itself is not fatal, it is modifying structural strength and may ultimately lead to breakage at what I suppose is a point of weakness.

Monte Sano

 

This twin sugar maple has collected enough organic debris in the fork that three violet plants have sprouted. Nature does indeed abhor a vacuum.

Monte SanoMonte Sano

 

I discovered my first African mask along the Wells Trail. From the Artyfactory website, “African masks should be seen as part of a ceremonial costume. They are used in religious and social events to represent the spirits of ancestors or to control the good and evil forces in the community. They come to life, possessed by their spirit in the performance of the dance, and are enhanced by both the music and atmosphere of the occasion. Some combine human and animal features to unite man with his natural environment. This bond with nature is of great importance to the African and through the ages masks have always been used to express this relationship.” I already felt united with this natural environment… the union deepened and strengthened when I read the description. I am obsessed with (and possessed by) the spirit of the Wells cathedral forest.

Monte Sano

 

I can imagine that all of the Monte Sano burls contain elements of spirit-essence. I may return some dark night to witness whether “They come to life, possessed by their spirit in the performance of the dance, and are enhanced by both the music and atmosphere of the occasion.”

Monte SanoMonte Sano

 

I know I’ll not be visiting these woods on a snowy evening, yet I see some of the same level of mystery and even a touch of foreboding that Robert Frost hinted in his often-quoted poem, Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening (1923)

Whose woods these are I think I know.

His house is in the village though;

He will not see me stopping here

To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer

To stop without a farmhouse near

Between the woods and frozen lake

The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake

To ask if there is some mistake.

The only other sound’s the sweep

Of easy winds and downy flake.

The woods are lovely dark and deep.

But I have promises to keep,

And miles to go before I sleep,

And miles to go before I sleep.

Thoughts and Reflections

I wrote my books Nature Based Leadership (2016), Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading (2017), and Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits: Stories of Passion for Place and Everyday Nature (2019; co-authored with Dr. Jennifer Wilhoit) to encourage all citizens to recognize and appreciate that every lesson for living, learning, serving, and leading is either written indelibly in or is powerfully inspired by Nature. All three are available on Amazon and other online sources.

Here are the two succinct truths I draw from this Blog Post:

  1. Nature’s beauty, magic, wonder, and awe are place-sensitive.
  2. Magnificence draws from a relative scale — the sequoia forest is not the standard for appreciating all forests.

Inhale and absorb Nature’s elixir. May Nature Inspire, Reward, and Heal you!

 

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2020 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

Another Note: If you came to this post via a Facebook posting or by an another route, please sign up now (no cost… no obligation) to receive my Blog Post email alerts:  http://eepurl.com/cKLJdL

And a Third: I am available for Nature-Inspired Speaking, Writing, and Consulting — contact me at steve.jones.0524@gmail.com

 

Reminder of my Personal and Professional Purpose, Passion, and Cause

If only more of us viewed our precious environment through the filters I employ. If only my mission and vision could be multiplied untold orders of magnitude:

Mission: Employ writing and speaking to educate, inspire, and enable readers and listeners to understand, appreciate, and enjoy Nature… and accept and practice Earth Stewardship.

Vision:

  • People of all ages will pay greater attention to and engage more regularly with Nature… and will accept and practice informed and responsible Earth Stewardship.
  • They will see their relationship to our natural world with new eyes… and will understand more clearly their Earth home.

Tagline/Motto: Steve (Great Blue Heron) encourages and seeks a better tomorrow through Nature-Inspired Living!

 

Steve’s Three Books

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

  • I love hiking and exploring in Nature
  • I see images I want to (and do) capture with my trusty iPhone camera
  • I enjoy explaining those images — an educator at heart
  • I don’t play golf!
  • I actually do love writing — it’s the hobby I never needed when my career consumed me
  • Judy suggested my writing is in large measure my legacy to our two kids, our five grand kids, and all the unborn generations beyond
  • And finally, perhaps my books and Blogs could reach beyond family and touch a few others lives… sow some seeds for the future

Steve's Books

Photos of Steve

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All three of my books (Nature Based Leadership; Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading; Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) present compilations of personal experiences expressing my (and co-author Dr. Wilhoit for Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) deep passion for Nature. All three books offer observations and reflections on my relationship to the natural world… and the broader implications for society. Order any and all from your local indie bookstore, or find them on IndieBound or other online sources such as Amazon and LifeRich.

 

 

 

 

Cloud Verse

I’ve published more than 200 Posts in these pages over the past three years. I use a format of photos, reflections, and lessons drawn from places visited in Nature’s realm… here locally and even internationally. Seldom have I ventured beyond simple prose. But now I’ve completed a poetry writing class at the University of Alabama in Huntsville’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. I love words, especially words employed to speak of Nature-Inspired Life and Living. So, I’m tentatively and with no small measure of trepidation attempting some verse and free-form!

Clouds

I love clouds. See two previous Posts highlighting my infatuation with them:

  • http://stevejonesgbh.com/2019/10/17/the-tumbling-mirth-of-sun-split-clouds-sky-gazing-on-a-12-day-national-parks-journey/
  • http://stevejonesgbh.com/2018/11/07/cheaha-state-park-mid-october-skies-and-clouds/

Normally I build explanatory and reflective text around my embedded photos. I don’t believe that it’s necessary for me to explain, describe, date, or give location for these images that I’ve included in previous Posts. Use your imagination… construct your own story.

Yellowstone

Nature’s Cloud Inspiration

 

We’ll go with that as the poem’s title. I love the scientific names for clouds, using them liberally without definition in my verse. The words alone capture the spirit of my love affair with our vibrant atmosphere. And here’s my poem:

 

Firmament… a thin layer of heavenly gases

enveloping and sustaining life on Earth

 

Twenty miles up (or out) noctilucent clouds,

ice crystals at the edge of darkness and space

 

Closer to home, judgement day apocalyptic,

undulatus aspiratus portending doom

 

Towering power and fury, cumulonimbus,

of deluge, hail, gale, and lightning stabs

 

Mare’s tale white-feather brush strokes,

cirrus across deep blue fairness

 

Foggy obscurity lifting from terra firma,

stratus detail-mush, gray nothingness

 

Stratus with precipitation merits a moniker

to its own – nimbostratus offers rain and snow

 

White puffs of fair weather and smooth sailing,

cumulus cotton balls cruising the cerulean sea

 

And my favorite crowning lofty mountain peaks

is the lenticular, space-ship lenses, still-life beauties

 

Full-day azure over the barren desert

cloudless emptiness; beauty-less; hopeless

 

Give me the cloud menagerie of suspended droplets,

salving my eyes; soothing my soul

 

A forester, I love trees… have for life

but try growing a cloudless tree

 

Poems are made by fools like me

But only clouds can grow a tree

 

 

Clouds and Sky Inspiration

Approaching Derecho

Rapid City

Steve Jones at Mount Washington

Clouds and Trees

 

Poems are made by fools like me

But only clouds can grow a tree

 

 

 

 

A forester, I love trees… have for life

but try growing a cloudless tree

 

Poems are made by fools like me

But only clouds can grow a tree

 

McDowell

 

Lake Guntersville SP

 

Joyce Kilmer captured the essence of trees and poetry:

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in Summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.
I’ll continue toying with the idea of employing verse to translate Nature’ beauty, magic, wonder, and awe. Perhaps through the vehicle of poetic expression I can better capture the joy and inspiration that is Nature. For the moment, I’m enjoying the idea of shifting gears now and again from my standard writing in sentences and paragraphs held rigidly to the constraints of grammar and conformity.

Poems are made by fools like me

But only clouds can grow a tree

Reminder of my Personal and Professional Purpose, Passion, and Cause

If only more of us viewed our precious environment through the filters I employ. If only my mission and vision could be multiplied untold orders of magnitude:

Mission: Employ writing and speaking to educate, inspire, and enable readers and listeners to understand, appreciate, and enjoy Nature… and accept and practice Earth Stewardship.

Vision:

  • People of all ages will pay greater attention to and engage more regularly with Nature… and will accept and practice informed and responsible Earth Stewardship.
  • They will see their relationship to our natural world with new eyes… and will understand more clearly their Earth home.

Tagline/Motto: Steve (Great Blue Heron) encourages and seeks a better tomorrow through Nature-Inspired Living!

 

Steve’s Three Books

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

  • I love hiking and exploring in Nature
  • I see images I want to (and do) capture with my trusty iPhone camera
  • I enjoy explaining those images — an educator at heart
  • I don’t play golf!
  • I actually do love writing — it’s the hobby I never needed when my career consumed me
  • Judy suggested my writing is in large measure my legacy to our two kids, our five grand kids, and all the unborn generations beyond
  • And finally, perhaps my books and Blogs could reach beyond family and touch a few others lives… sow some seeds for the future

Photos of Steve

 

I like to imagine that representative samples of my books appreciate accompanying me into the woods. So far, none has complained nor groaned. Knowing that I am getting way out in front of remote possibility, perhaps there is a book of Steve’s Nature-Inspired Life and Living Poetry awaiting me around the corner of some forested trail!

 

All three of my books (Nature Based Leadership; Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading; Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) present compilations of personal experiences expressing my (and co-author Dr. Wilhoit for Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) deep passion for Nature. All three books offer observations and reflections on my relationship to the natural world… and the broader implications for society. Order any and all from your local indie bookstore, or find them on IndieBound or other online sources such as Amazon and LifeRich.

 

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2020 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

Another Note: If you came to this post via a Facebook posting or by an another route, please sign up now (no cost… no obligation) to receive my Blog Post email alerts: http://stevejonesgbh.com/contact/

And a Third: I am available for Nature-Inspired Speaking, Writing, and Consulting — contact me at steve.jones.0524@gmail.com